Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Who chooses who?

Today’s devotional turned into a study of the Christian doctrine of predestination and election. The mystery of it began early. One example is Abraham, whom God called to a new life. Obviously, had God not called him, he would have remained a pagan living in an idolatrous land. Did God know this man would obey? Good question.

Other verses about God’s foreknowledge and predestination as related to human choice include these:

“This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:23)
“And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48)
“What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened . . .” (Romans 11:7)
“(God) predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” (Ephesians 1:5)
“In (Christ) we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will . . .” (Ephesians 1:11)
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect . . . according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ . . .” (1 Peter 1:1–2)

My study involved the history of what has been believed about God’s divine call and about how and why people are saved. Those who have studied and studied have varying opinions that can be summed up in three views. As I read it, I thought who am I to figure this out when great men of the faith could not, and could not agree?

Arminians believe that salvation or damnation is contingent on God foreseeing how each person would freely respond to the gospel. In other words, human decisions totally affect God’s decisions.

Luther and others believes God does the choosing, but avoids the question of why some people are left to perish. They simply avoid the issue. This position is sometimes called the “middle” view.

Calvinists take a stronger stand that God divinely decides everything. He does not merely foresee but foreordains who is elect and who is condemned. This does not depend on God’s foreknowledge of free human action or decision, but totally is up to God. A doctrinal emphasis is put on gratitude and praise, but the problems are strong. Why does God choose only some and reject others? Calvinists might say this is beyond us, so we should thank God for our election and not probe further. Yet this position affirms both divine sovereignty and human responsibility without explaining how they co-exist.

When put in these simplified statements, my question is this: which one most glorifies the Lord God Almighty? Like the ‘house hunters’ on some popular television shows, I can easily eliminate one of them. God is not glorified when we think we pull His strings. That is, my will and decisions are not sovereign. If they had been, I would never have ‘chosen’ Jesus Christ over my own desire to do my own thing. Aside from my experience, I cannot believe the Arminian interpretation because it does not line up with many verses that say by grace God chooses His people.

As for the other two, I cannot avoid the issues raised by Calvinism and stand in the middle. I cannot say that God chooses capriciously and must admit that I don’t know why He does what He does. I do believe He is wise, good, and merciful, and that none of us deserve or can earn His favor.

I also know that God desires a personal relationship with people. In our sinfulness, we want nothing to do with Him, yet He woos us in various ways. One writer calls Him the “Hound of heaven” who is relentless in that pursuit. I found a story that many Christian would agree is a good illustration of how God saved them:

A man told a group of people how God had sought him and found him, loved him, called him, saved him, delivered him, cleansed him, and healed him. It was a tremendous tribute to the glory of God.
After he was finished speaking, another man took him aside and said, “You know, I appreciate all that you said about what God did for you, but you didn’t mention anything about your part in it. Salvation is really part us and part God, and you should have mentioned something about your part.”
“Oh,” the man said, “I apologize. I’m sorry. I really should have mentioned that. My part was running away, and God’s part was running after me until he found me.”

Jesus, I know that You choose and saved me. I am content to not know the mystery of why and how some are saved and some are not. Human choice is involved, yet to what extent and how does that really matter? You declare that all who put their faith in You will be saved. I’m thankful that You brought me to that place. I’m praying that You will do the same in the lives of those who are not there yet. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

All for all

Every now and then I catch myself envying a ‘super saint’ or comparing what I do to spiritual giants like Billy Graham or Elizabeth Elliot. The Holy Spirit usually reminds me that I’m not to do that and whispers these truths into my ear:

“If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we . . . Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” (2 Corinthians 10:7 & 12)

I learned this in another version that says those who do this “are not wise” yet comparing ourselves with others is so common that we do it almost unconsciously. Why does Paul say this comparison gives evidence of a lack of comprehension? The answer is in verse 7. Every Christian is a child of God. There is no hierarchy or measurement. We are His children by adoption, something God did. We are made kings and priests; God did that too. For all, our only ground of acceptance is Christ. All of us shall be like Him, perfect in righteousness and glory. As today’s devotional writer says, can there be any degrees in perfect glory?

God’s kingdom has no second-class citizens in heaven. His attitude toward us is illustrated in the attitude of Israel’s King David, called ‘a man after God’s own heart.’ Here is the story . . .

“Now when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, the Amalekites had made a raid against the Negeb and against Ziklag. They had overcome Ziklag and burned it with fire and taken captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great. They killed no one, but carried them off and went their way. And when David and his men came to the city, they found it burned with fire, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep. David’s two wives also had been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” (1 Samuel 30:1–6)

David and his men prepared themselves for battle, but about one-third of his army were too exhausted to go on and stayed behind. David took the others, found the Amalekites celebrating their ‘victory’ and attacked them . . .

“And David struck them down from twilight until the evening of the next day, and not a man of them escaped, except four hundred young men, who mounted camels and fled. David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and David rescued his two wives. Nothing was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken. David brought back all. David also captured all the flocks and herds, and the people drove the livestock before him, and said, ‘This is David’s spoil.’ Then David came to the two hundred men who had been too exhausted to follow David, and who had been left at the brook Besor. And they went out to meet David and to meet the people who were with him. And when David came near to the people he greeted them. Then all the wicked and worthless fellows among the men who had gone with David said, ‘Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except that each man may lead away his wife and children, and depart.’ But David said, ‘You shall not do so, my brothers, with what the Lord has given us. He has preserved us and given into our hand the band that came against us. Who would listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down into the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage. They shall share alike.’ And he made it a statute and a rule for Israel from that day forward to this day. (1 Samuel 30:17–25)

The New Testament affirms that this is the ‘rule’ in the kingdom of God; all belongs to all:

“So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” (1 Corinthians 3:21–23)

This is humbling to me and I’m sure has the same effect on those whose ministry is prominent. We are sharing together all that God gives us.

Jesus, forgive me for the times I’ve thought that Your favor is greater for those who work harder or become more prominent in Your kingdom, and then for belittling myself or feeling sorry for myself. The amazing truth is that all belongs to all. No matter my status in this world, or the opinion of others, in Your sight, all are equally blessed because Your blessing has nothing to do with who we are and everything to do with who You are. God’s grace has made it so.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The wonder of God’s grace

It seems safe to assume that most readers of a devotional book are already Christian or are very interested in becoming a child of God. The book I selected for this year focuses on how to become a Christian. If a reader has come this far in it and not done so, I’d be surprised.

The other surprise is that the author has said much about God’s part in salvation, almost to the point that if a reader was not yet saved, they might think they are not one of ‘God’s elect’ and therefore cannot be saved.

However, today the devotional writer surprises me. First he says this . . . “God has a people whom he will save. As surely as the Bible is true, God has a people whom he has chosen and who are redeemed by the blood of Christ. All of these must and will, in due time, be brought to Christ in true faith, by the sovereign will and power of God. God’s purpose will never be thwarted. His will cannot be overturned. His grace will not be frustrated.”

Then he adds this . . . “And it is equally true that whosoever comes to Christ by faith will have eternal life. The Son of God himself says that he will not refuse any sinner who comes to him in true faith! Jesus Christ is both able and willing to save to the uttermost all that come to the Father by him. If you go to hell, you will have no one to blame but yourself’ ‘You have been invited to Christ. God himself invites you. But you would not come! Nothing but your sinful will keeps you from him!”

He calls these “the twin truths of divine sovereignty and human responsibility” and says both are true. A person cannot believe one without the other. I’ve been patiently hoping for this statement from this writer! It is based on the invitations in the Bible that call out to people, invitations like this made by Jesus:
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37)
The Lord’s words echo the words of the prophet Isaiah who uses poetic language to vivid describe the condition of those outside the kingdom of God and the loving care God has for those who accept His call to them:
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant . . .  Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.’” (Isaiah 55:1–13)
We often drive from the city to the surrounding countryside, from the complexity to the simplicity, from the busyness to the relaxation of few responsibilities. These verses remind me of a spiritual transition, of the delight of ceasing from all effort to be a righteous person and entering in to the family of God. Here my Father bestows the righteousness of Christ and sets me free to be the person He intended, delighting in His care and enjoying the contentment of total forgiveness and the simplicity and freedom of faith in Christ.

Jesus, You said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30) Coming to You means leaving behind the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of the enemy’s lies, the lure of my own wants, and the cries of the crowds to conform. You called, and without Your call I would not know this life had been made available to me. I answered, and without answering, I would have missed the joy of knowing You and the wonder of being made alive in You. Even though my response is important, salvation is truly Your doing, and I’m still amazed that You called me to be part of it.